Don’t Waste Their Time

Posted on 02/17/2010


My pal Jeff Posey and I were talking about writing conferences the other day and we came across a very startling discovery while tossing ideas around.

Let’s set the stage a little.

You’re an agent. You’re not like a super famous agent that everyone knows, but most writers out there want you to look at writers’ stuff and offer them representation.  You’re a higher midlist agent, let’s say. (Are agents even ranked? I would bet they are, we just don’t know about it. And if it’s not done publicly, you can bet they gossip about it over coffee, or tequila, or unicorns, or whatever agents talk over.)  You get an email from some person from a writing conference.  You mentally sigh. Yes, yes, writing conferences are something that you must do. You read the spiel and file the email away, knowing that you will have to respond.  Finally you do, knowing you’ll at least get a free trip to Kansas City, or Austin, or Sheboygan, or Chicago.  Maybe not Honolulu or San Diego, but hey, it’s a trip.

But as Winston Wolf would say,  “Let’s not start sucki— ” oh… heh. Sorry. This is a PG13 rated site…heh.  Know this, and know it well: Writer Conferences are the least efficient time an agent can spend looking for new talent.

Put it to you this way.  Is it a better use of your time to drive from shoe store to shoe store, looking for that one pair of shoes you so desperately want and even more desperately need, or is it a better use of your time to sit at your computer and surf 50 different shoe sites, looking for that one pair?  Yeah, you’re not stupid. You get it.

Agents will listen to anywhere from 10-30 pitches in pre-determined sessions over the weekend, and even more if there are afterhours parties. So let’s say each agent tops out at 50 pitches they get during the conference.  They spend 48 hours, listening to 50 pitches. That’s just over a pitch an hour. 

Let’s just say that a pitch equates to a query.  Simply put, most agents will ask for you to send them something even if they’re even remotely interested.  Why wouldn’t they? You can send them a query letter even if you didn’t meet them at the conference, right? So it’s no skin off their nose, and most of them want to be nice because they know how nervous you are sitting before them with your baby story.  So you’ll go home all giddy after the agent says, “Sure, send me your work, it sounds interesting.”

 So that’s one query an hour for them Let’s say they take 23 hours off for sleeping, eating, etc. That leaves 25 hours for them to be conscious and listening. So that leaves us with TWO queries/pitches an hour.  We’ve damn near doubled their average by just letting them sleep.

Now back to our story: You Ms. upper midlist agent flies home and opens your email and LO AND BEHOLD THERE’S TWO HUNDRED QUERY LETTERS!! So you start sifting through them and get through them all in about 2 hours. Huh. That’s 100 queries an hour as opposed to 2. 

So you see, attending conferences is not an efficient use of an agent’s time when she is looking for new talent.  As a matter of fact, it’s pretty damned slow.

So….you’re probably thinking a few things here.

1) Then why do agents even go to conferences?

2) Agents already know this.

Yep. Agents already know this, but their too damned nice to say bad things about it. 

Why do agents go to conferences? Hell, I don’t really know. I could venture a few guesses, however. 

Agents like to meet the writers face-to-face.

Agents may have a class they like to teach.

Agents like to meet other agents and network.

Agents consider it a part of the due diligence of their jobs.

And there’s probably a ton more I don’t know about. Those are just guesses and I am sure that agents could/would also add a lot to this. 

So remember, when you’re giving your pitch to an agent, whether it’s in a pre-determined time slot, or just hanging out by the coffee machine, BE NICE. 

They are.

Just by coming.

I’ll have more conference agent ideas coming soon.